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CHECK THE LABEL: Are Your Hands in Good Hands?

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Are Your Hands in Good Hands?

How confident are you with your hand soap? On one hand, are you sure that it keeps your hands clean? On the other hand, how certain are you that it does not damage your skin?

Did you know that some hand soaps contain petroleum distillates, which are hydrocarbon solvents produced from crude oil? What are hydrocarbons, you might ask? Examples of hydrocarbons are kerosene, engine oil, tiki-torch fuels, gasoline, diesel fuels, paint solvents, wood stains, wood strippers, liquid lighter fluids, and asphalt/roofing tar. So if you think your hands are in good hands with your hand soap, you might want to think again and double-check.

When it comes to petroleum distillates, there is some good news, and there is some bad news. The good news is that minor exposure to it can cause nothing more than mild skin irritation or, when ingested in small amounts, diarrhea. The bad news is that long-term exposure to petroleum distillates causes contact dermatitis, which is the cracking of the skin due to inflammation and skin dehydration. Also, petroleum distillates contain carcinogenic elements that further increase its health hazard. This is why the European Union banned its use in cosmetics and personal care products. Petroleum distillates are not just harmful to humans but animals as well. Signs of poisoning in cats and dogs include vomiting, drooling, increased breathing, skin/ eye irritation, walking drunk, and coma. If not treated immediately, it can be deadly to these pets. When inhaled in excessive amounts, petroleum distillates can cause seizures, irregular heart rhythms, and kidney/liver damage. And in worst cases, it causes pneumonia-like conditions that lead to irreversible, permanent lung damage--sometimes even death.

If you're looking for healthier alternatives, try low-solvent and solvent-free cleansers. Also, avoid hand soaps with pumice. (Pumice is a scrubber that causes micro-abrasions in the skin. It is a volcanic glass that ends up cutting your skin on a microscopic level.) Instead, look for bio-scrubbers such as walnut shells, cornmeal, and olive pit.

The next time you wash your hands, ask yourself if your cleanser contains petroleum distillates or hydrocarbons. While they might do the job and keep your hands clean, they might cause more harm than health on a level that is not just skin deep. 


Coppotelli, A. (2017). Safer Soap: A Look at Harmful Ingredients Found in Hand Cleansers -- Occupational Health & Safety. [online] Occupational Health & Safety. Available at: https://ohsonline.com/Articles/2017/06/01/Safer-S... [Accessed 13 Jan. 2020].

Pet Poison Helpline. (2020). Petroleum Distillates Poisonous to Dogs and Cats. [online] Available at: https://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/poison/petroleu... [Accessed 13 Jan. 2020].

UConn Health. (2020). Hydrocarbons: The Deadly Poison Found in Everyone’s Home | Connecticut Poison Control Center. [online] Available at: https://health.uconn.edu/poison-control/about-poi... [Accessed 13 Jan. 2020]. 

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